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Book and Video Review Guide

Moo-ving people toward compassionate living

The intent of this book and video review guide is to help us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

"Genesis" (Bereshith)
Chapter One of "The Animals’ Bible"
by Ian A. Stuart

Part Two – The Naming to Seth

God, or God and the man together, now seek to find the man a mate and start by looking, of all places, among the animals! This can make a first time Bible reader take a few mental steps backward.  It also presents us with another mystery.  Since Yahweh knew the man would not find a mate among the other species, why did he have him look there in the first place?  The oft-given answer is that he was allowing him free choice, but the question still holds.  Why bother having him use his free will when you already know that the exercise, no matter how freely and seriously undertaken, is futile?  In this second creation story he is the only one of his species.  You hardly need a degree in genetics to understand that he couldn’t reproduce his own kind with an animal or a bird, and, as we will later discover, God absolutely prohibited sexual relations with other species on penalty of death.

In ordinary Biblical usage, the phrase "beasts of the field" meant the major predators such as bears, wolves, lions and leopards.  According to the divine dietary provisions, the predator/prey relationship did not yet exist, so the expression here may just mean wild animals.

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.  He brought them to the man to see what he would name then; and whatever the man called each living creature that was its name.  So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.  But for Adam, no suitable helper could be found. (2:19-20)

Notice how "the man" is beginning to be translated Adam, a proper name instead of a descriptive noun, and that he was naming each individual animal - not his, or her species.  This task conveys the idea of a God-given power to bestow identity; it also infers that God created the animals as individuals worthy of names and far more than mere resources.

While we are not told how long it took him to name the animals, the apocryphal book of Jubilees claims the ceremony took place over five days and it was the angels that brought the animals to the man at God’s command.  If true, this is the first appearance of this species of spiritual beings.  For the "naming" to be possible in such a short period, the original species must have been extremely limited in number and the individuals within each species similarly few, unless, of course, he was only naming the other living creatures in Eden and not the animals that might have existed outside it.

As we understand God, he did not need to bring the animals to the man to see what he would name them: being all knowing, he already knew.  However, since the ancient Hebrews did not credit him with foreknowledge, he had to wait and see what would happen, an idea confirmed by the many tests he is said to have conducted to see how people would react.  Perhaps he decided to allow the man to name the animals so this new creature could begin to exercise his vice-regal role in Creation.  Since Adam did not find a helper (mate, spouse, companion) among the animals, Yahweh took one of his ribs (actually a part of his side) and created a female of his species from the very substance of his body. This female was clearly his equal and intended to be his companion, not his subordinate.

The stage is now set and the players in place for the ultimate drama.   For the first time, we discover that one of the creatures God created, and Adam presumably named (although his name is never mentioned in the text) had intelligence at least equal to human intelligence.  He was crafty – the first personality trait attributed by the Bible to any individual – and amazingly, had the power of speech. This individual was a snake, a reptile of the sub-order Ophidia, probably an Egyptian cobra, and although his motive is unknown, he tempted the newly created woman to defy their Creator and eat the fruit of the tree that would bring her the knowledge of good and evil……and death.

Long after the story of the first man and his wife was written, this serpent became identified with Satan. The Hebrew satan is an ordinary noun, not a proper noun.  It means adversary, and any adversary – even a celestial angel – could be a satan.  The text of Genesis does not support the supposition that this reptile was the cosmic malignancy we call Satan.  To the contrary, it states very clearly that he was a serpent (a large snake), a wild animal; and neither an angel nor a spirit.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’"

The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’"

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (31:5)

This serpent must have been truly remarkable since he had a level of awareness the woman didn’t possess.  He knew there was a difference between good and evil: she didn’t.  However, even if he could speak, he would have had a lot of trouble participating in a two-way conversation. Snakes are deaf.

While evil didn’t yet play a role on earth (at least in the garden) this story makes it clear that a potential for wickedness was inherent in Creation.  Given the emphasis the scriptures place on evil, it is truly amazing that its existence, or purpose, is never explained.

An understanding of Hebrew religious folklore might make us ask another question.  Where were the angels during this catastrophic event, especially Gabriel?   In an apocryphal book that bear his name, the patriarch Enoch13 claimed that it was this archangel that was in charge of serpents and the garden!

If we are restricted to the information presented in Genesis, our original parents did nothing in Eden but exist in a state of bliss.  We also get the impression that only a short period of time passed between Eve’s creation and what is called the original sin.12  The apocryphal Life of Adam and Eve claims they worked diligently over a number of years to care for the garden although much of the material in that book is considered legendary and folkloric.

While many other cultures, some earlier than the Hebrew, had stories describing the loss of an original paradise or golden age that later became corrupted, Genesis makes the loss a matter of choice by two individual human beings.  We are asked to believe that God’s best intentions for mankind were utterly frustrated, right from the beginning, when the woman took some of the fruit from the forbidden tree, ate it and gave some to her mate.  This creates another great Biblical mystery and begs an obvious question.  I mean no disrespect when I ask: didn’t God see this coming?  Didn’t he know they would touch that tree?  Did the Creator of the Universe actually allow the success or failure of his entire Creation to hang on these two innocents eating or not eating some fruit?

When YHWH appeared physically in Eden and asked the couple what they had done – even though he surely knew – the woman admitted, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." Hearing this, he responded by cursing the serpent, punishing not him alone, but his offspring as well, which raises a serious question about the Hebrew concept of divine justice.

"Cursed are you above all the livestock

and all the wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly

and you will eat dust

all the days of your life.

And I will put enmity

between you and the woman,

And between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head

and you will strike his heel." (3:14-15)

The eating of dust cannot be taken literally to infer the snake’s diet, since they could not exist on dirt. It probably means that he would be so close to the ground he would frequently be forced to inhale dust.  However, and more important, the divine expression "all the days of your life" reinforces the idea that this was an actual serpent with a limited life span, and not an immortal spiritual being.

Whether God intended the enmity to extend to the immediate offspring of this particular serpent and Eve, or to their species – all serpents and all human beings – is unknown.  It certainly has been understood theologically to mean all snakes and all human beings and the hatred and antagonism persists.  Snakes stay away from us and we don’t much like them either.  The use of "he" could represent both masculine and feminine.  Since it is not "they", it would seem to be only one masculine offspring, perhaps the eldest, which, in Eve’s case, would be Cain.

While Jews have traditionally understood this passage in Bereshith as establishing an enmity between species, Christian theologians read it as a reference to Jesus, based on the belief that this serpent was indeed the powerful but corrupt archangel called Satan.

If we accept the later tradition that the infamous reptile of Eden was this defiant spirit or one of his lieutenants, snakes as a species are blameless and the punishment unjust.  This leaves me with more troubling questions.  How could a just God condemn one of his own creatures and his offspring, knowing his actions were motivated by the influence of a spiritual being?  Why didn’t he address this serpent as an angel, if that, indeed, is what he was?  If the serpent was possessed by Satan, believed to be the most powerful of all created beings, and it was through his power that the creature spoke, the serpent remains blameless and the punishment undeserved.

Snakes once had legs.  On some species you can still find vestigial protuberances where legs once existed. This may have been known to the tribal historians who told these stories orally for generations before they were finally written down.  Perhaps they assumed that serpents had lost their legs because of an offence committed against their Creator by a primeval ancestor, hence the story of Eden’s cunning, persuasive, talking serpent.

Genesis doesn’t mention any creature other than the serpent being able to speak, but according to Jubilees, all living things had this ability until their expulsion from the garden.  I find it an enormous stretch of faith to believe that reptiles ever had this power, and since nothing in Genesis indicates that the authors thought he was the supreme angelic being in disguise, we have the option of concluding that this story is a parable, and the serpent a symbolic creature intended to be seen as a metaphor for seductive, self-destructive evil.

Since any wild animal could have been the seductive one, why a serpent?   During Moses’ leadership of the Israelites (when the initial versions of Bereshith were undoubtedly begun) snake-worshipping cults flourished in the religions of Mesopotamia and Egypt.  Many cultures saw them as phallic symbols or associated them with various pagan deities.  Since they hibernated, shed their skins and reappeared both renewed and reinvigorated, they were also a symbol of resurrection.  These cults crafted serpents into images, making them symbolic of the ultimate evil – blasphemous idol worship.14  If one of these serpents was the model for the deceiver of Eden it was probably the serpent deity, Hereret.  This mythological god represented anarchy to the Egyptians and was believed to seek the destruction of the order of the created universe.

As we continue reading Genesis, we find Adam has given his mate a name – Eve.  This word means Living, Lifegiver or Living Being, but has an unsettling similarity to the Aramaic word for serpent!

God’s punishment – as almost everyone knows - was not restricted to the serpent.  For eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were cursed by their Creator, a curse which is believed to extend to all generations of their guiltless offspring yet unborn.  For being gullible enough to be swayed by the serpent’s lies and offering the fruit to her husband, this first human act of disobedience would forever be blamed on Eve.  This belief has only nominal influence in Judaism.  The Hebrew Bible doesn’t dwell on it and Jewish tradition places no particular blame on Eve for the human condition.  It did however become of crucial significance in New Testament Christianity.15  Even today, women bear the burden of this sin in many cultures, and are still perceived as leading men astray.   After all, the argument goes, "Aren’t all women inheritors of the sin of Eve?"

Punishing an entire species forever for a single act of disobedience by an extremely remote ancestor is – to say the least – extremely unforgiving and unfair punishment.  I find it difficult to believe it was conceived and imposed by the supremely just Deity who would insist that his people be loving, merciful, forgiving, just and compassionate.  Life may not be fair, but God surely is.  In my view, dooming billions of innocents yet unborn for the single sin of an ancient predecessor is uniquely unjust.  Yet, this is the punishment Genesis tells us that the Creator handed down.

Yahweh also did not temper the effects of the forbidden tree.   Instead of remaining immortal, Adam and Eve would now die and return to the dust from which they were made.  Nothing is said about the immortality of God’s other creatures but we can assume that when their human stewards brought death into the world, death became their fate as well.

Our first parents also became suddenly and shamefully aware of their nakedness, so…

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. (3:21)

The type of "skin" is not clear.  Most readers assume these garments were animal in origin, even going so far as to use Genesis 3:21 to justify trapping and killing animals for their pelts.  However, since YHWH Elohim made the garments, surely in the sense of creating them rather than acting as a divine seamstress, we can be relatively sure they were not the skins of existing animals.  If they were, God would have had to kill some of his own creatures to obtain their hides.

The reason for these garments was not just modesty.  Adam and Eve needed protection from the elements outside the garden.  From the evidence of archaeological research we know that such garments covered most of the body; they certainly weren’t those silly fig leaf g-strings so commonly portrayed in pious paintings of our first parents.

While the use of "shame" indicates there was a newly discovered modesty on the part of these two humans, God clearly did not endow any other species with a sense of shame and modesty nor did he find it necessary for them to cover their genitals.  It has never been shameful for their reproductive organs to be visible, even when so obvious - in species like baboons - that they are impossible to avoid.

According to Jewish tradition, when Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, so were all the animals living in the garden, although he was careful to send them to environments suited to their species. Their human stewards were not only driven from the garden, they were forbidden – in fact unable – to return. God commanded cherubim,16 his most awesome heavenly creatures to bar their way with flaming swords, and may even have caused the garden to vanish since no evidence of its existence has ever been found.

The first couple were now compelled to struggle to make their way in a very different environment from Eden.  Life was hard. The choice of food was dramatically altered. It had to be grown.  This was not a paradise where Adam and Eve could reach out and pick fruit off trees.

I have always wondered why Adam did not appeal to God for forgiveness. (In the apocryphal Life of Adam and Eve they do, although the effort was in vain.)   Had he chosen to do so, YHWH could have been merciful, punished the guilty party, the serpent, and left things in Eden as they were.  These two humans are portrayed more like children than adults and surely deserved a second chance from their Divine Parent.  However, the God of Genesis didn’t allow second chances, even for victims of a cunning lie.

Eve did not conceive in Eden, even though she and her mate had been commanded to do so.  It was outside the garden that they followed God’s commandment and the woman who would forever be seen as both the mother and the curse of mankind gave birth to two sons.  Cain, the firstborn, became a farmer and raised crops. Ab-El (Abel) whose name contains the ancient name of God, became a shepherd and raised flocks and herds.

Sacrifice and murder now become elements of the Biblical story, and we are introduced to the concept of human beings offering material gifts to their Creator.   In Abel’s case, this required him to kill other living creatures, although animal sacrifice was neither unique to him nor to the Hebrews.  As a means of placating and honouring their gods, it was practised by virtually all the peoples of the Ancient World.  Genesis 4:3-5 records that:

In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  But Abel brought the fat portions from some of the first-born of the flock.  The LORD looked with favour on Abel and his offerings, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.

This incomprehensible prejudice can only have been based on divine displeasure with Cain himself and not what he was offering.  Grain offerings would be made for centuries and were ordained by Yahweh himself.  However, God may have been saying something very different from,  "I prefer this to that." He may have been signalling his approval of Abel's choice to become a nomadic herder of livestock – the ultimate destiny of the Israelites – rather than Cain’s choice to become a stationary agriculturalist.

Why it occurred to these men to bring tangible gifts to a totally self-sufficient Spirit who had absolutely no need of them is difficult to understand.   However, from the perspective of these Neolithic peoples,17 it was necessary to "feed" their gods through sacrifice.  What we are discovering here is the first Biblical reference to the sacrificial rituals that would become the central act of worship in the ancient Hebrew religion.  The ritual would last thousands of years, until the destruction of the second Temple by the Roman army early in the Common Era.  Beginning with the killing of a few animals on special occasions, the rituals escalated, over time, into sacrificial orgies with tens of thousands of victims and literal rivers of blood flowing from the altars, all believed to be pleasing to God.

To these people, YHWH was clearly not as infinite in majesty and power as we now believe him to be. He wasn’t pure Spirit. He had a body described in terms of its parts: eyes, hands, back, feet, mouth, nostrils, heart, hair and so on.   Virtually an enormous man in the sky, he was depicted in anthropomorphic – man-like – terms. He appeared and walked in the garden with Adam in a body presumably similar to Adams’, at least in size.  He was not omnipresent, as we now consider him to be, but was found at specific places instead of everywhere, simultaneously.   He had distinct preferences, especially for the first of things, and could be persuaded to overlook sins and bestow his blessings of those who brought him gifts of which he approved while ignoring or condemning those who didn’t.

Why Abel offered only the fat is another mystery.  Perhaps he and his family liked the fat portions better and assumed Yahweh would have the same preference.  Perhaps because eating animal fat is deadly and kills slowly through blockage of arteries to the heart and brain it had to be eliminated.  Abel would have been oblivious to that fact but his Creator certainly understood the danger and may have commanded it be set aside for him and burned to eradicate it for health reasons.  We have no way of knowing.  Like many ancient regulations and rules, it may have been based in common sense, but –over time - the reason the practise was initiated was lost or forgotten.

YHWH clearly didn’t need, nor did he eat, the fat and flesh, although these sacrifices were considered to be his food, a primitive and truly delusional belief.  Educated and intelligent people in the civilized Ancient World undoubtedly knew that such sacrifices were symbolic.  However, to the common people they were the food of the gods to whom they were offered, even if it was obvious they were being incinerated, eaten by the priests or the priests and the people and not consumed by the deity involved.

Intelligent readers understand that Cain and Abel were thanking God by presenting him with some of the best of what they believed they received from him in the first place.  They had an ulterior motive however: the expectation that he would reward them with good harvests and expanded flocks.  In this way they were no different from any other ancient farmers and herdsmen.

To obtain the fat portions, the animal(s) had to be killed.  This then becomes the first reference in the Bible to human beings killing individuals from other species and presumably eating them in direct defiance of God’s dietary rules.   Further, Yahweh approves of the offering. Yet another mystery. Has he suspended his own commandment?

To be rejected by your parent is one thing.  To be rejected by your God is something else.  In anger over Yahweh’s refusal to accept his offering, and preference for the gifts of his younger brother, Cain killed Abel and was cursed by his Creator.  He was not, as we might expect, subject to capital punishment.  Instead, a "mark" was placed upon him by God that somehow protected him from being killed by others.  His punishment was to be banished and he finally settled with his wife in the mysterious land of Nod ("wandering") somewhere outside Eden.  The question of where his wife came from is a mystery only if we discount the first version of Creation where God creates the human species in numbers inclusive of both male and female.  Jubilees presumes incest, claiming that she was his sister, Awan, whose name indicates the attitude to this most ancient of all taboos: it meant wickedness.

After the loss of Abel, Eve gave birth to Seth and ultimately to other children. Several generations of her offspring come and go until we are told about Jabal who had two sons who lived in tents and raised livestock.  From this descendent of the original couple onward, and perhaps much earlier, the lifestyle of the ancient Hebrews was that of nomadic herdsmen.  In a world of great civilizations like Sumer, Egypt, Assyria and Babylon, these insignificant "dusty ones" from the other side of the river known as Apiru, Habiru or Hapiru - from which we get Hebrews - wandered from place to place, their movements dictated by the seasons and the need to find new pasture.  They had no country, no permanent home, grew no crops and existed almost entirely by raising cattle, sheep and goats.  Yet, this loose federation of nomadic tribes, entirely dependent on their animals, produced the uniquely moral and ethical set of beliefs that would evolve into the three most important religions of the Western World and spread around the globe.


Footnotes

12)  This is not a Hebrew concept. It was annuniciated by Augustine of Hippo in the Christian era.

13)  The father of Methuselah, Enoch did not die but was taken directly into the presence of God.

14)  The practise continued right through Ancient Greek culture where Pithia, a python, was worshipped as an incarnation of the Oracle of Delphi.

15)  See 1st Timothy, 2:13

16)  Pronounced CHAIR-yoo-beem, these creatures are described in the chapter on Fabulous Creatures.

17)  Late Stone Age

Copyright, 2001 Ian A. Stuart

| Go on to Chapter 1 - Genesis - Part 3 - Noah and The Flood |
| The Animals' Bible Table of Contents |
Anyone who wants an advance copy of The Animals' Bible should contact the author by e-mail at:
ianastuart@yahoo.ca (Canada).

| Table of Contents |

The calf photo on this pages is from Farm Sanctuary with our thanks.

All of the beliefs and ideas presented by the writers of the reviewed publications may not necessarily represent all those held by The Mary T. and Frank L. Hoffman Family Foundation, but since they do seek to make this a kinder and more compassionate world, they have been included.


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